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2021 Division Previews: West Division

What a treat we have here to wrap up a week of division previews with the Honda NHL West Division, after running through the North Division, East Division, and Central Division. The West should be a fun one, as it features two of the top three Stanley Cup favorites and a team only a couple years removed from hoisting the Cup themselves.


The bottom of this division does feature some of the lowest of the lows in the league, so there is a pretty clear line drawn when it comes to the contenders versus the pretenders. Although the bottom feeders are early in their rebuilding stages, they do feature some of the best prospect systems in the NHL. This allows for plenty of intrigue if we're able to get a glimpse of some of the league's future talent.


Without further ado, let's run down the division from bottom to top, including regular season point total lines and Stanley Cup odds courtesy of BetOnline.ag to compare with our standings point projections.


8. SAN JOSE SHARKS LINE: 55.5 cup odds: +6600


New Faces: Ryan Donato, Patrick Marleau, Matt Nieto, Devan Dubnyk

Key Departures: Joe Thornton, Melker Karlsson, Tim Heed, Aaron Dell

Patrick Marleau returns yet again after being traded last season and slots in temporarily on the top line with Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl. It is expected he'll give way to younger players getting a shot at the top six throughout the season, perhaps most notably Ryan Donato.


Noah Gregor and Dylan Gambrell are currently in a battle for the third center spot, and there's a slew of prospects likely to rotate in this year. If any of these young players can step it up, this isn't actually that bad of a set of forwards.


Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson expect to both get run on the top powerplay unit, in fact, they're both starting there together according to reports out of training camp. Mario Ferraro has been the camp darling so far, and, with Radim Simek's recovery status now up in the air, he is getting run as Burns' partner.


Devan Dubnyk comes over to challenge Martin Jones in net, but in reality this is a lose-lose situation for the Sharks as their struggles last season can be summed up in a Spiderman-pointing meme.


With heavy contenders at the top of the division, San Jose is likely in for a long season. They do have some high-end offensive talent still, and with porous defense and goaltending, could be part of a lot of high-scoring affairs.


7. ANAHEIM DUCKS LINE: 55.5 cup odds: +8000


New Faces: Kevin Shattenkirk, Derek Grant

Key Departures: Michael Del Zotto

With Ryan Getzlaf in the twilight of his career, the Anaheim Ducks are going to have to turn to their prospect pool to try to find a replacement. Not listed in the graphic above is Trevor Zegras, who, after a stellar World Junior Championship performance, has a good chance to crack the lineup.


If Zegras is not the immediate answer, youngsters Max Jones, Sam Steel, and Troy Terry form what could be an exciting line both now and in the future. As a group though, potential success is a term that will likely overshadow actual success, as there is just not enough talent ready for the here and now.


The Ducks' defense is more veteran-laid than the forwards, with Kevin Shattenkirk coming over to add powerplay savvy and good puck movement in transition. Anaheim hopes that Brendan Guhle can make another leap forward, as he has the skating ability to become an exciting player in the league.


John Gibson's down year last year was a surprise to anyone who has watched him as a goals saved above expected machine, usually adding a ton of value to the team. It is likely an outlier in an otherwise solid career so far. Ryan Miller returns this season to provide steady backup play, and Anthony Stolarz just inked a new deal to join the taxi squad as the team's third goalie.


6. LOS ANGELES KINGS LINE: 53.5 cup odds: +8000


New Faces: Andreas Athanasiou, Olli Maata

Key Departures: Ben Hutton, Trevor Lewis, Joakim Ryan

Andreas Athanasiou joins the fold this year, although he'll be in a battle for playing time with the Kings' younger talent. Speaking of that younger talent, Los Angeles' prospect system is absolutely loaded, and we could see the likes of 10+ forwards under the age of 24 getting some NHL time this season. That should be led by centers Blake Lizotte and Gabriel Vilardi, who are expected to play full-time middle six roles with the team.


While all of these prospect develop, the Kings really remain a one line team. Alex Iafallo, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown project as really the only sure impactful line on the team, which holds them back from doing any real damage in the West.


Olli Maatta was a nice add for the team, and he should help steady Drew Doughty, who has struggled in recent seasons with subpar defense partners. Matt Roy is coming off an underrated strong season, but the rest of the unit is still finding their way.


Goalie optimization with the Kings will likely still be skewed by their early 2010's Cup runs, as Jonathan Quick is not quite the backstop he used to be. Calvin Petersen has impressed in limited action, and should really play more than the 22 games he projects to start.


5. ARIZONA COYOTES LINE: 59.5 cup odds: +6600


New Faces: Tyler Pitlick, Johan Larsson, Derick Brassard, John Hayden, Dryden Hunt

Key Departures: Taylor Hall, Derek Stepan, Carl Soderberg, Vinnie Hinostroza, Michael Grabner

The Coyotes forward group is going through an overhaul after losing Taylor Hall, Derek Stepan, and other key contributors this offseason. Barrett Hayton will likely get his full-time shot at center this season, and Johan Larsson and Tyler Pitlick should carve out nice roles in the bottom six.


The problem with this group is that Arizona will be leaning on Phil Kessel again way too much at even-strength, as his positive impact is limited to the powerplay at this stage in his career. Christian Dvorak and Conor Garland have been strong, so the Coyotes will need Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz to step up for a formidable top six.


This defense is good, but its two biggest names have been holding them back. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has just been ok, and Arizona desperately needs him to return to being great. Niklas Hjalmarsson's time has seemingly come to pass, and the Coyotes would really be better off passing the torch to Ilya Lyubushkin or Aaron Ness.


What makes up for the lack of team offense is the club's incredible goaltending tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. Both netminders rank among the top 10 in nearly every goaltending statistic. They've needed them both, too, as the injury bug has bit each one quite a bit.


If any team can challenge the top four in this division, it's Arizona. Their lack of scoring may cost them that opportunity, but they project to have one of the league's lowest goals against this season.


4. MINNESOTA WILD LINE: 61.5 cup odds: +5000


New Faces: Marcus Johansson, Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Cam Talbot

Key Departures: Eric Staal, Luke Kunin, Ryan Donato

Wild GM Bill Guerin made some peculiar moves this offseason, particularly the Eric Staal for Marcus Johansson swap. That move left a glaring hole at number one center than Guerin had mentioned Johansson could be in line for. That would be a mistake, as Johansson struggled a bit in his top six center role with the Buffalo Sabres last season.


Thankfully for Wild fans, Johansson has began camp on the left wing, and Minnesota has three middle six worthy centers down the middle in Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, and Joel Eriksson Ek that all have good isolated impact numbers.


The majority of hope in the offense improving lies in the hands of incoming rookie Kirill Kaprizov, who will get major minutes at both even-strength and on the powerplay. If Kaprizov can live up to the hype, then the Wild should have no issue making the playoffs this season.


Minnesota returns their stellar defense corps, with a top four of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba that is as good as any quartet in the league. All four can drive play and produce on offense, while Carson Soucy and Brad Hunt chip in with reliable defense and on the powerplay, respectively.


In net is where the Wild really should improve, as the struggling Devan Dubnyk will not return and Cam Talbot was signed in his place. Any positive play at the position will provide a nice floor of expectation for this club, and Talbot should provide just that.


3. ST. LOUIS BLUES LINE: 69.5 cup odds: +2000


New Faces: Mike Hoffman (tryout), Kyle Clifford, Torey Krug

Key Departures: Alex Steen, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Jake Allen

Again hindered by injury this season, Vladimir Tarasenko returns to long term injured reserve, leaving the door open for Mike Hoffman to come in and fill his role at both even-strength and on the powerplay. Alex Steen retiring also opens the door for Jordan Kyrou to step in full-time with the team.


Robert Thomas just keeps improving ever since breaking into the league, and the Blues will be relying on his to step it up again this season by vaulting him into a top six role. This forward group, despite losing Tarasenko, is still very strong, keeping St. Louis in the contender column come playoff time.


The Blues may have lost their leader this offseason in Alex Pietrangelo, but Torey Krug can provide the puck moving ability and offense to replace most of Pietrangelo's game. Colton Parayko in a bigger role can't hurt either, although the same cannot be said for Justin Faulk, who has not lived up to his reputation the last few years.


If anyone deserves a lifted role on the defense, it's Vince Dunn. He has been remarkable in a third line role and on the powerplay, and if anyone has "breakout star material" written all over him it's Dunn.


By trading Jake Allen to the Canadiens, the Blues are clearly all-in on Jordan Binnington. Yes, he was outstanding a couple years ago, but he was actually outplayed by Allen last season. Still, there is plenty of opportunity to bounce back with a strong team in front of him, so look for St. Louis to come out of the regular season primed to do some damage.


2. VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS LINE: 71.5 cup odds: +950


New Faces: Alex Pietrangelo

Key Departures: Paul Stastny, Nate Schmidt, Jon Merrill, Deryk Engelland, Nick Cousins

The Golden Knights' forward group remains largely intact, with the exception of Paul Stastny. Youngster Cody Glass is expected to step into his role, although Glass' NHL play has left a lot to be desired so far.


Don't be fooled by the look of Chandler Stephenson's name at number one center, as pretty much any forward who plays with Mark Stone will benefit greatly. Combining those two with Max Pacioretty leaves the trio of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith to continue be one of the best second lines in the league.


Alex Pietrangelo comes in, and there is no doubting the immediate impact he will have on the team. Yes, there were some sacrifices necessary to fit his contract, but Pietrangelo is a top 10 defenseman in the NHL.


Another of the league's top blueliners is the blossoming Shea Theodore, who won't easily concede his first powerplay spot to Pietrangelo. He leads the rest of the defense, which includes plenty of strong complimentary players.


Marc-Andre Fleury surprisingly returns for another season, and will have to settle for taking a backseat to Robin Lehner. Lehner has established himself as one of the league's best, despite constantly adjusting to a new team.


It wouldn't be appropriate to discuss Vegas without discussing their Vegas betting lines. The Golden Knights begin the season with the third best odds at winning the Stanley Cup, only behind the defending champions and the number one team in our West division rankings.


1. COLORADO AVALANCHE LINE: 73.5 cup odds: +650


New Faces: Brandon Saad, Devon Toews

Key Departures: Matt Nieto, Colin Wilson, Nikita Zadorov, Michael Hutchinson

The rich get richer on offense, as GM Joe Sakic swapped third pair defenseman Nikita Zadorov for top six winger Brandon Saad. This is the final piece towards assembling forward group talented enough to be considered as the best in the NHL. From offensive stars to strong defensive forwards, the Avalanche have it all.


Interesting that to begin training camp, Coach Jared Bednar has split the familiar Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen line, replacing Landeskog with Andre Burakovsky. When fully healthy Colorado has the luxury of being right no matter how they arrange their lines, so while this may not affect betting purposes much, it is a key note for fantasy drafts.


The Devon Toews addition takes this defense much closer towards the top of the league in impact, even though Ryan Graves' value on Cale Makar's pair should not be overlooked. Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson are likely locked together, but it's possible we see any combination of the other four play together throughout the season.


Colorado's goaltending let them down a bit in the bubble playoffs, but that was with starter Philipp Grubauer out. Grubauer had a great regular season, so with him back in net this team should flourish. It should be noted as well that Pavel Francouz was great in his relief during the season, despite the playoff troubles.


Colorado is the Stanley Cup favorite for good reason, as they are top-to-bottom the best roster in the NHL. When talking betting value, it's interesting that their over/under in regular season points is about 10 points lower than our projection, as the Avs should prey on the three rebuilding teams in this division. Yes, they may concede some points to Vegas and St. Louis, but, assuming home and away impact is emphasized less this season, it's conceivable that Colorado could be favorites in every game they play this season.


 

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